You wouldn’t know it by my king-sized bed with its ridiculously thick mattress, but there was a time when I didn’t mind sleeping in a bag on the ground.
Oh, to be that young again, huh?
And we were young, Nancy and I, back when we started camping with our kids and two other Pierre couples with their kids. We started small, borrowing a tent from our friends. That’s when I slept on the ground — every weekend, it seemed.
We graduated to our own self-contained camper van — not one of those battleships that ride the highways these days. Ours had a stove, bed and cabinets built on a Chevrolet van frame. It wasn’t much, but it created a lot of memories.
When we walk in the morning these days, we often cut through a campground near the river. I’ve seen the ads and TV spots from Game, Fish & Parks encouraging people to get out of the house and into the outdoors. Looks like many people are following that advice, at least along American Creek here.
The campers range from singles and young families with tents on the grass to pop-up trailers to as many kinds and sizes of drive-it-yourself or fifth-wheel outfits as you could imagine. Around the campers are boats, small cars, motorcycles, bicycles, water toys, charcoal grills and lawn chairs. One particularly big rig had a wire stretching out to what appeared to be a satellite dish set at the edge of the grass. Maybe I don't get out enough, but I didn’t know that was a thing.
Of course, until Nancy and I moved to Pierre and met our friends who camped, the notion of spending a night or a weekend outdoors in a tent or van never crossed my mind. Growing up on a farm, I’d never seen the attraction for spending a long weekend outside in the sun, boiling coffee and cooking meals over a wood fire or sleeping in a tent on bare ground.
I’m not complaining about my childhood. Not at all. We had what we needed on the farm. We just didn’t have a lot of frills, and we certainly didn’t go out of our way on our after-work time to put ourselves in situations removed from the few comforts we had. The beds in our farmhouse weren’t much, but they beat the hard ground. The rural electricity turned a couple of box fans in open windows and pulled night air through the house during the summer.
What I’m saying is that indoors was fine for me. Then Nancy started work at the hospital in Pierre and made friends with two other nurses who told her how great life was with a boat on the river and a tent on some isolated, sandy point of land on the shore of Lake Oahe. On the nurses’ days off, they started to meet at the Farm Island swimming beach. The two other nurses husbands would leave work a little early and join them with their boats and water skis. I resisted a while, but anybody following this plot line could tell it wouldn’t be long before we had our own boat and skis.
I was probably the last one to see that coming. Once it did, sometime in the summer of 1974, it was just a matter of time before we’d receive and accept an invitation to join the other two families for camping weekends up on the big lake. That’s when we sat around a wood fire at night singing “Out Behind the Barn” or “Lovesick Blues.”
A year or so later we graduated to the camper van and thought we were in heaven. It came with a small propane furnace, which made us laugh. Ridiculous, right? It was until we camped below Fort Randall Dam on a cold, rainy Memorial Day Weekend and ran the furnace day and night.
Well, kids grow older. They get involved in summer jobs and activities. Camping as a family gets pushed aside. It was fun while it lasted, though.